October: the month where baseball legends are made and champions crowned. Playoffs begin, and the great players step up or crumble under pressure. October is the pinnacle of a 162-game marathon of a season that sees itself drag through the scorching dog days of summer.
Since 2012, the MLB playoff format has consisted of four rounds. The wild card round — featuring the two best teams from each conference that did not win their divisions — sees two teams face off in a winner-take-all single elimination game for the right to play the best team in the conference in a best-of-five series.
The winner of this then plays in a best-of-seven game conference series followed by the culminating seven-game World Series.
While the addition of the second wild card team in 2012 has certainly added some much-needed drama and excitement to baseball, the current playoff format is in no way a fair representation of who the best teams are in the regular season.
This year served as classic evidence for a need to change the playoff format. In the American League, the 89-win Toronto Blue Jays hosted the 89-win Baltimore Orioles.
The Blue Jays won a 5-2 game on a three-run homer in extra innings thanks largely in part to a single mistake made by Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter. Showalter chose not to play the team’s best relief pitcher, Zach Britton, in any of the late innings.
The Blue Jays capitalized on this decision and crushed the decisive walk-off home run. Showalter’s decision to not play Britton has been highly criticized — as the pitcher is known for inducing ground balls — and likely would have allowed the Orioles to escape the decisive inning unscathed.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, however, this single mistake had enormous repercussions. One man’s choice to not play a pitcher resulted in Baltimore packing their lockers the following morning and heading home for the winter.
One single mistake erased all of the hard work the team had put in for 162 games.
Then there was the National League Wild Card game. The 87-win Mets hosted the 87-win San Francisco Giants. The Mets finished the season as one of MLB’s hottest teams, closing the year winning 27 of their last 40.
San Francisco was quite the opposite, closing the year in a horrible slide since the All-Star break, finishing 30-42. They also led the league in blown saves with 30.
Unfortunately for the Mets, they ran into the human buzz-saw known as Madison Bumgarner, who ultimately outdueled Mets ace Noah Syndergaard en route to a complete game 3-0 shutout of the Mets.
Both the Orioles and Mets saw their seasons come to screeching halts thanks to anomalies. To have so much ride on one game in no way reflects their seasons. Baseball is a marathon. To have it end in a sprint is ridiculous.
A baseball season consists of at least 1,458 innings per team. To have a nine-inning game that would represent 0.61 percent of a team’s season decide everything improperly rewards weaker teams at times.
If a team like the St. Louis Cardinals had finished this year with 102 wins, they would have been relegated to the Wild Card game because they are in the same division at the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals could have then lost to a single legendary Bumgarner performance on an inferior team, and their great season would have abruptly ended.
If a team like the Giants just happens to possess one of the best postseason pitchers in the history of the game, they are automatically at an advantage, regardless of whoever else they may field. The team simply just has to send their ace to the mound for one game to shut down the superior team, and they are all but a lock to advance.
MLB should change their current format to a five, seven, seven, and seven-game playoff format. Requiring a wild-card team to play at least three games eliminates the possibility of a team just sending out their ace pitcher to dominate an entire team. It would force each team to go deeper into their rotation, which in turn would further reward the other playoff teams not in the Wild Card game.
The winner of the Wild Card game would likely have to start the next series deeper into their rotation, providing a bigger benefit and more incentive to win your division in the regular season.
The Divisional Series should also be amended to change from the current two-three-two home-away-home schedule for the higher seed to a three-two-two format. This further gives an advantage to the regular seasonal divisional winner by providing even more of a home-field advantage — further highlighting the importance of the regular season.
MLB needs to quickly revise their playoffs. While all-or-nothing games are great for television ratings, having fluke teams win the World Series is not good for the game and improperly rewards inferior teams.
If baseball truly wants to be great again, it needs to fix its most important month.
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